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2015: 5 Big Trends for the New Year

If 2014 featured the rise of the doting pet “parent” and increased demand for higher-quality nutrition what will 2015 have in store for the pet industry? Pet Product News interviewed retailers, manufacturers and trade groups for the answers



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Pet Food: Why more consumers are paying the price for high quality

According to Packaged Facts’ latest report, Pet Food in the U.S., 11th Edition (September 2014), much of the dollar growth in the pet food market has come from converting pet owners to higher-priced foods, but this trend shows signs of hitting a ceiling in 2014.

Even so, Packaged Facts expects sales to grow at 3 to 4.5 percent rates over the 2015-2018 period, driven by an increased focus on pet health and the powerful role of the human-animal bond.

At these rates, U.S. retail sales of pet food will rise by a total of 16 percent during the forecast period (through 2018) to $33 billion, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 3 percent.

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief at Petfood Industry magazine in Rockford, Ill., reported that mass market is where most of the growth slowdown seems to be happening, which points to the pet specialty channel as the sales-growth driver.

“Other more specific trends are that raw pet food sales, whether freeze dried, frozen or refrigerated, are growing briskly—still from a small base but strong growth in sales, and products and companies entering the market,” she said. “This growth is happening in the U.S. and abroad: Many German companies at Interzoo were launching raw or BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) products.”

Pet owners continue to move away from pet food products and ingredients from China, especially jerky treats, she added.

New developments in food processing extrusion also are creating opportunities for pet food innovation that meet demand for limited-ingredient diets, food safety and specific food labeling.

“With this new hardware, we have more control of cooking temperatures, extrusion, sanitation and food production safety,” said Curtis Strahm, director of extrusion applications at Wenger, the Americas, a food processing manufacturing plant in Sabetha, Kan. “The grain-free trend continues to grow, and we have equipment that can more precisely deliver limited-ingredient products as well as overall healthier and highly nutritious food mixtures.”

Indeed, the trend of pet owners scrutinizing food and treat labels for ingredients and their origins is on the rise, retailers reported.

“Years ago, terms like byproducts and fillers weren’t something that pet parents talked about, but now a food brand’s mission statement against these less-nutritive types of ingredients are key tenets to their success,” said Joshua Roth, vice president of Pet Pantry Warehouse, a store with five locations in Connecticut and New York.


The Takeaway: Some research estimates pet food sales will grow at 3 to 4.5 percent rates over the 2015-2018 period, driven by an increased focus on pet health and the human-animal bond. At these rates, U.S. retail sales of pet food will rise by 16 percent through 2018 to $33 billion. Further, mass-market sales are slowing, and raw pet food sales, whether freeze dried, frozen or refrigerated, are growing briskly.

In the Way: Not much.


An important trend for retailers continues to be the tendency for owners to keep their pets longer and look for products to keep them healthier from the start: food and treats with supplements and vitamins, exercise products designed for limited-space environments and services to ensure dogs are well cared for as owners keep an active lifestyle and continue to work and travel. Another emerging trend, particularly among retired boomers moving to smaller homes or young owners starting out in apartments or small starter homes, is the move toward smaller dogs and other pets that are better suited for smaller living areas and require less effort to keep healthy and active.” —Bob vetere, president and CEO for the American Pet Products Association

Pet Tech: Sales of wearable tech are set to explode

Wearable Technologies for Animals 2015-2025, a report from IDTechEx, a market research firm in Cambridge, England, projects that the market for wearable tech for pets will explode—sector sales are expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2025.

According to the findings, wearable tech for animals of all sorts—dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, livestock and endangered species—will be the next big thing for monitoring security, behavior, medical diagnosis and treatment.

Davide Rossi, founder of Kansas City, Mo.-based FitBark, which makes a wireless activity and behavior tracker that attaches to a pet’s collar, said the trend for pet wearables mirrors the human market for such devices.

“People also want to know as much as possible about their pets, and there’s added convenience of having a tracker and mobile app that allows veterinarians to sync up to a pet’s health and behavior data,” Rossi said, adding that it cuts down on the Q&A during vet checkups.

Another hot trend is the demand for greater accountability from dog walkers, sitters and daycare providers.

Doug Simon, former owner of a dog walking service and currently the founder of Chicago-based Pet Check Technology—a company that offers a GPS tracking mobile app that maps a dog walk—said people want to know for sure that their pet has been picked up and returned home, and that their dog was walked for the entire time that they paid for.

“Clients also receive an email with details, including a walk route, notes like how a dog is doing or if a pet parent needs to stock up on food,” he said. “Walkers can even add photos. I’m seeing so many new dog-walking and pet-sitting companies opening, and they all feel that they need to add a GPS tracker to their service as demand from clients escalates. Requests are also on the rise for trackers for cats.”

Other must-have apps include pet social media platforms, iCams, the ASPCA’s Petoxins (an app that lists all types of plants that are poisonous to dogs), and Foursquare’s app that organizes all the dog runs, pet stores, grooming facilities and more in a pet owner’s city or neighborhood.


The Takeaway: The market for wearable tech is set to explode for pets; sales in this sector are expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2025.—Wearable Technologies for Animals 2015-2025, from IDTechEx, a Cambridge, England, market research firm

In the Way: The high prices of some tech gadgets might scare off some smaller retailers who can’t afford to have them in their inventory. Plus, how will large corporations such as Samsung handle merchandising through Main Street, if at all?


Live Pet Sales and Legislation: It’s a make-or-break year for live animal sales

The jury is still out on whether or not retailers will be able to continue selling puppies, kittens, aquatics and reptiles. However, the pet industry is upping its game in raising awareness and fighting bans against in-store livestock sales.

“PIJAC is fighting for a future where pet stores continue to be one of many providers for purchasing pets,” said Rebekah Milford, director of marketing and communications for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council in Washington. “We believe in a future that allows consumers to choose the best pet for their family. Education is an essential part of how we want to engage on the issue of pet sale bans. Banning animal sales in stores does nothing to stop unscrupulous breeders but can cause consumers to visit underground breeders or find other venues to purchase the pets that their family desires.”

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Uncle Bill’s Pet Centers, a retailer with locations in central and northern Indiana, has been selling all types of pets for more than 25 years. Leilani Zindler, store manager, said that education is key, as is only using quality, trustworthy breeders.

“There are so many great breeders who have high-quality standards in animal husbandry,” said Zindler. “That’s the message more should be receiving and understanding.”

According to a recent poll taken by the American Pet Products Association, more people seem to be receiving the message: Four in five (81 percent) U.S. adults say banning dog sales entirely at pet stores will not stop puppy mills.

Steve King, president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) in Abingdon, Md., said all major pet associations have united with PIJAC to take a stand against legislative bans on pet sales in stores.

“The trend is to stop letting animal rights activists control the message,” said King. “What we need to do a better job of is raising awareness that there is a big difference between respectable commercial breeders and disreputable puppy mills.”

With almost 50 U.S. cities now enforcing bans, and an injunction prohibiting Phoenix from enforcing its law until a case initiated by Phoenix-based pet store Puppies ’N Love is further evaluated, the future of bans is uncertain.

“PIJAC hopes that common sense can prevail on the issue of pet sale bans, but we hope that other cities will wait to see how the Phoenix case plays out before trying to adopt similar bans,” said Milford. “If more cities try to adopt pet sale bans, PIJAC will continue to be on the frontlines fighting for the rights of consumers, commercial breeders, pet lovers and those who could be potentially economically impacted by such a ban.”


The Takeaway: The goal is for industry associations to take greater control of the pet sale message by raising awareness that there is a big difference between respectable commercial breeders and disreputable puppy mills. According to the American Pet Products Association, four in five (81 percent) U.S. adults say banning dog sales entirely at pet stores will not stop puppy mills.

In the Way: Industry associations really need to circle the wagons and form a strong, sane and united front against the very deeply lined pockets of various animal welfare organizations.


Walking, Training, Grooming & More Services: From grooming to dog walking, more people are launching pet service businesses

American Pet Professionals, a Babylon, N.Y.-based networking group dedicated to the pet industry and founded by Nancy Hassel, has experienced increased membership this year and expects the trend to continue.

“The pet service industry is attracting more people who want to be trainers and groomers, or they’re opening dog walking and pet sitting companies,” said Hassel. “What’s interesting is a lot of the new members in our group are older folks who are embarking on second, or even third, careers. We’re seeing the millennials are more focused on creating new products and marketing them in various pet sectors.”

Hassel said the dog-walking trend has gone from a simple setup to more like a big business.

“They’re hiring teams, creating websites with logos and blogs, using social media, adding GPS tracking technology, promoting their first aid qualifications, and are bonded and insured,” Hassel said. “Best of all, they’re holding themselves to very high profesional standards.”

When Hassel attended the 2014 Association of Professional Dog Trainers conference in Hartford, Conn., she said it was clear that the field of dog training has grown significantly in the past couple of years by the sheer numbers of new professional trainers in attendance.

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that the employment of animal care and service workers, and specifically animal trainers, is projected to grow by 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

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Dog grooming, both in a salon and via mobile units, also is a service attracting more sales and groomers, said Jorge Bendersky, celebrity groomer and consultant at Planet Jorge in New York.

“As cities become more dog friendly and dogs are more involved than ever in their owners’ social lives, grooming is no longer just about keeping dogs clean,” said Bendersky. “Pet grooming has become a regular spa treatment that can be compared with the services that were previously just available to lucky humans, bringing home grooming to the top of the list of ‘premium’ services.”

Bendersky added that mobile grooming units are growing rapidly in areas where driving around and parking doesn’t present a problem.

“Time is money,” he said. “Circling around for parking is not the best scenario.”           

For those groomers who make home visits, the low overhead cost of doing business is a big positive, Bendersky added.

“Home groomers can easily make six figures a year with an overhead of only a backpack full of grooming tools,” he said. “No rent, no maintenance, no loans needed. The performance quality and light weight of the new generation of grooming tools, added to a smart selection of concentrated products, make it possible to carry all you need for a full day of work.”


The Takeaway: The U.S. Department of Labor projects that the employment of animal care and service workers, and specifically animal trainers, will grow by 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. The pet service industry is attracting more people who want to be trainers, groomers, dog walkers and pet sitters; many are older adults embarking on second or third careers. And they take those
careers seriously.

In the Way: Very little, except possible blowback if too many newbies entering the field fail to secure the right qualifications.


Much of [the industry’s] growth in the last decade has been through inflationary measures—not necessarily growing the number of pet owners. The specialty channel has been very good at getting consumers to trade up to more and more expensive product, but how much farther can it go? Our recent research shows that larger percentages of lower-income households consider themselves to be “pet parents” than higher income households, leading me to wonder how many less-affluent but otherwise pet-centric households we are marginalizing. I look for a ‘race to the middle’ in the near future, as not all retailers and brands can survive if we continue to price large numbers of households out of the specialty market.”
—Michael Johnson, vice president, marketing and information for Chuck Latham Associates Inc. 

Economy: At last! This is the year business will pick up again

According to Kiplinger’s most recent economic outlook, “healthy third-quarter growth of 3.5 percent plus an upward revision of second-quarter growth confirm that economic momentum is back on track. In the fourth quarter and into 2015, growth should continue at a 3 percent rate. Consumer confidence has been gaining strongly. Hiring is on the rise, job openings are at a near record level, and spending on consumer services, such as recreation, is likely to strengthen as incomes rise.”

There’s more good news for retailers and their business-related expenses.

“With rising employment overall, and a dramatic drop in fuel prices, the economic outlook is quite good, as people will have more disposable income,” PIDA’s King said.

Also, retailers and other pet businesses staffed with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the Affordable Care Act, he added.

Owners also are continuing to pamper their “fur kids.”

Case in point: Looking at the overall pet industry, Packaged Facts’ 2014-2015 report found that pet humanization is the biggest factor driving sales growth.

Greg Markiewicz, the manager of Tatnuck Pets, a store in Worcester, Mass., said he sees the economy looking up just by the sharp increase in customers requesting and buying high-end foods, treats and more for their pets.

“Pets are being treated just like precious children,” he said.

American Pet Professionals’ Hassel suggested that retailers might consider offering a dog walking and pet sitting service, given the popularity of this thriving business sector.

Bendersky is optimistic for the grooming industry in 2015.

“As pets become more involved with their owners’ social activities, the grooming industry will only move forward. Premium services and high-quality products are turning the grooming industry into the pet beauty industry.”

King reminded retailers that they will do best if their sales come from both brick-and-mortar and online.

“The percent of sales made online continue to grow,” he said. “So make sure your website is transactional and mobilized for success.”  


The Takeaway: Packaged Facts’ 2014-2015 report found that pet humanization is the biggest factor driving sales growth. Kiplinger found that consumer confidence is gaining strongly, hiring is on the rise, job openings are at a near-record level, and spending on consumer services is likely to strengthen as incomes rise.

In the Way: A weakening global recovery. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in late 2014 downgraded the global economic growth estimate to 3.8 percent for 2015—the ninth downgrade in three years. The cause is a sluggish Eurozone, and the IMF doubled to nearly 40 percent the chances that Europe will re-enter a recession in the next six months (slower growth also is forecast for Japan and China). Potential catalysts include heightened geopolitical risks, monetary policy that underprices risk and protracted low inflation, and the risk of deflation. The challenge for U.S. small businesses will be to keep their heads above water. Nearly a third of U.S. economic growth since 2009—the height of the Great Recession—has been driven by exports that sustain around 7 million jobs, according to recent U.S. Department of Commerce data. 


One trend that could have an enormous impact on the pet industry is live pet sale bans in pet stores. Without a reliable, regulated source of pets, where will our industry be in five years? All retailers should be very concerned whether they sell pets or not. Less pets in homes means less products sold. Retailers should nurture good relationships with local representatives in order to have rational, informative discussions and help them understand the impact of ban legislation on their business, their employees and their community. Retailers should join PIJAC and work with them to better understand how to best engage their local politicians.” —Doug Poindexter, president of the World Pet Association

 

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